The Slovenia Times

Celje national football champions

Aljoša Matko, the top scorer for Celje, at the European U-21 championship in 2021. Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Celje have won their second ever championship title in the Slovenian premiere football league a full three rounds before the end of competition.

They have been the dominant side since the early stages of the season and sealed the deal by defeating reigning champions Olimpija 1:0 on 28 April.

"Congratulations to the players, who played heroically throughout the season. There were a few ups and down, but nothing out of the ordinary. I believe we'll get even stronger," coach Damir Krznar said.

Celje have been ascendant for several years thanks to foreign investments brought in by club president Valeriy Kolotilo, a Russian-Ukrainian businessman.

They have spent heavily on players and coaches, sometimes to the extent that the club faced criticism it was throwing money out the window.

After winning their first championship in 2020, Celje had a lacklustre next season but picked themselves up last year, when they finished as runners-up.

This year, they have won 23 of the 33 games so far and lost only four. Their goal difference is 71:29.

Striker Aljoša Matko has been the man of the season with 15 goals, the second highest tally in the league, while right-back Žan Karničnik has a league-leading eleven assists.

Former coaches Roman Pilipchuk and Albert Riera also played a major role, which Krznar, the current coach, fully acknowledges.

"I'd like to congratulate Riera and Pilipchuk, who started this story," said Krznar, who joined the club in October 2023.

Karničnik, considered among the best players in the league, said defeating Olimpija was a fitting way to win the title.

"There's nothing better than to defeat an opponent who has been chasing you all along. We showed today that the title is deserved," he said.

Celje can now look forward to qualifications for the Champions League, while Olimpija and Maribor will enter lower-division European competitions.


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